MOSCOW – Russian and Ukrainian officials agreed Tuesday to resume talks on resolving a dispute over the price of natural gas that has reverberated across the continent and left Ukraine cut off from its supplies.
Sergei Kupriyanov, a spokesman for Russia's state-owned gas monopoly Gazprom, told The Associated Press that Ukrainian officials were on their way to Moscow. He did not specify who would be taking part but said the talks would be "at a sufficiently high level."
Gazprom cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine on Sunday after the country refused to meet its demand for a fourfold price increase. Other European countries also reported drops in their supplies and Gazprom accused Ukraine of siphoning off gas bound for Europe — a charge Ukraine denied.
Russia supplies about one-quarter of the gas consumed in Europe and 80 percent of that goes through Ukraine.
Gazprom promised to turn up the volume to compensate for the falloff and the European countries most affected — Hungary, Austria, Slovakia and Slovenia — reported supplies were back to normal Tuesday.
"We are asking that influence be used on the Ukrainian side with the aim of returning it to the sphere of law and ensuring that it is in full conformance with its international obligations," the RIA-Novosti news agency quoted Fradkov as saying in a message to the European Council chairman, Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel.
Despite the planned resumption of Russia-Ukraine talks, there was no immediate sign of a compromise in the works. Fradkov, in his message to Schuessel, said Russia "firmly intends to return to its relations with Ukraine on the principle of a market economy." Russia contends the price spike is justified by high world gas prices.
Ukrainian officials have said they don't oppose market-driven price changes, but any increases should be phased in. A sudden, huge price increase would cripple the country's economy, which depends on energy-intensive heavy industries, Ukraine has said.
The dispute has reawakened European fears over Russia's reliability and potential for belligerence — criticism that comes as the country assumes the chairmanship of the Group of Eight, a position it wants to use to boost its international prestige.
The dispute also has thrown a new spotlight on Ukraine's dependence on Russia even as it seeks to break out of Moscow's orbit of influence and become a member of the European Union.
Ukraine's tilt toward the West since President Viktor Yushchenko took office a year ago has irritated the Kremlin.
Ukraine denies it is diverting gas intended for others. Deputy Foreign Minister Anton Buteiko said Tuesday his country was sending on the European gas even though there was no contract with Russia and Gazprom was not paying transit fees.
"And when one does not pay dues, that's something that can be described as smuggling," Buteiko told TV5.